First look: Justin Vernon's boutique Oxbow hotel in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Lucy Hawthorne

Lucy Hawthorne

Justin Vernon, the creative force behind Grammy-winning band Bon Iver, is all in on his hometown of Eau Claire. 

The first in a series of worldwide listening parties for Bon Iver's latest, 22, A Million, went down in the western Wisconsin city; Vernon built his April Base recording studio just outside of Eau Claire; and as of this week, his jointly owned boutique hotel and bar/restaurant -- the Oxbow and the Lakely, respectively -- are open for business downtown. 

It took just over $4 million to rehab the seedy Green Tree Inn & Suites, says Nick Meyer, who's part of the Oxbow ownership group and editor/publisher of adjacent magazine Volume One. 

The resulting 30-room hotel, restaurant, and performance space is a curatorial win. If Vernon's Eaux Claires Festival channeled the Bon Iver ethos, the Oxbow meticulously incorporates elements of the woodsy Chippewa Valley and the emerging Eau Claire arts community into its aesthetic. 

Bikes and kayaks are available to guests at no additional charge; the lobby has a stocked vinyl library; the walls are adorned with work from regional artists; reclaimed wood heavily accents the common areas; the motherfuckin' stone bathroom sink is carved to resemble an area lakebed. Click here to see all of the artful touches and collaborations. 

The rooms themselves aren't especially luxe, but they're crisp, large, and smartly dotted with thoughtful, on-brand touches -- locally focused snack and minibar items, original wall art, turntables complete with instructions on how to use a turntable.

Chef Nathan Berg, a favorite of Star Tribune food critic Rick Nelson, is steering the ship at the stylish Lakely. He says the menu emphasizes Midwest comfort food (think rabbit and wild rice casserole) via regionally sourced ingredients for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while the drink offerings keep it as local as possible with craft cocktails and beers. A throwback microphone already stands on the restaurant's small performance stage. 

The parking lot outside the mid-century-modern motel that juts out from the main building will host outdoor music events, Meyer reports. And a certain bearded mononucleosis survivor might make unannounced visits to DJ at the Lakely, which also features an outdoor patio. The venue's jazz-emphasized bookings will be handled frequent Bon Iver collaborator Sean Carey.

A cynical yahoo might scoff at such artisinal attention to detail. But it works because you can tell the Oxbow team means it, plus the execution from Minneapolis-based Shelter Architecture in on-point. This is not La Quinta trying to bilk hipsters; this is Vernon, Meyer, and co-owners Ben Richgruber and Zach Halmstad legit caring about boosting the culture of their 66,000-person city. 

Rooms are available now for $125-$220 per night. Good luck scoring a spot during next year's Eaux Claires Fest, which is set to go down June 16-17.

Fortunately, you don't need a reservation to take our photo tour of the Oxbow.